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Traveler's Diary

The Bars Named Harry

January 19, 1986|HORACE SUTTON | Sutton is editor of Signature magazine. and

What the well-informed wayfarer afoot in the great cities of the world really needs is a guide to all things called Cipriani, a name appended to hotels, bars and restaurants. An accompanying lexicon could define watering holes called Harry's Bar: which ones are real and which got in on a popular but uncopyrighted name.

This concern has reached new importance with the recent opening of a splendid bar and restaurant in New York which gets to the real root of the matter by calling itself Harry Cipriani. That is somebody's name. The owner's.

Harry Cipriani--the restaurant and bar--is finished in soft rose beige walls, with rounded wooden chairs which will look familiar to the traveler. (They were copied by those in Venice.) Equipped with a battery of table captains in black tuxedos and waiters in white, Harry Cipriani occupies a choice Fifth Avenue location on the ground floor of the Sherry Netherland Hotel looking across Grand Army Plaza at the edge of Central Park at 59th Street.

It serves an elite, super-scrubbed clientele, some social, some actors, directors, playwrights and similar creative geniuses who would just as likely be seen in Harry's Bar in Venice. Not only are these premises owned by the same Harry, but the New York place is virtually a clone of the one in Venice which was catapulted to fame by Ernest Hemingway, among others.

In Deep Gloom

In the Depression of 1929, a young Bostonian named Harry Pickering, a 30-year-old heir whose fortunes were in delicate balance, had come to Venice to reflect. He frequented the bar of the Hotel Europa and struck up a friendship with the barkeep whose name was Giuseppe Cipriani. Pickering sat most of the day in deep gloom, but one day he stopped coming. He was out of funds.

Giuseppe sought him out and discovered Pickering was broke. Cipriani lent him the money to pay Pickering's hotel bill, the bar bill and the passage back home--in all $1,000, all he had made that summer. Giuseppe scraped up the money and Pickering departed, not to be seen for two years.

One day Harry Pickering returned to Venice, handed Giuseppe the money he owed. Then he pulled out 80,000 lire and the two decided to open a bar. The name? Inevitably, Harry's Bar. It opened in 1931 and in the years that followed it drew kings and queens, writers, painters and artists.

In 1946 Giuseppe opened a locanda --a country inn on the nearby Venetian island of Torcello. Hemingway was so captivated by it that he persuaded Cipriani to keep the country place open during the winter of 1948 so that Hemingway could write a novel, all about Venice, which became "Across the River and into the Trees."

An Immediate Hit

Ten years later, with the Guinness family as backers, Giuseppe opened a splendid hotel on the island of Giudecca, a five-minute boat ride from St. Mark's Square. It was an immediate hit. Two years later came the Hotel Villa Cipriani in Asolo, north of Venice.

By now Giuseppe had a grown son who was named Arrigo, which is Italian for Harry. Arrigo became chairman of the board. But then the famous CIGA hotel chain bought Asolo and Harry resigned.

Giuseppe died in 1980, four years after the grand hotel which bore his name on Giudecca in Venice had been sold to James Sherwood, an American who owns Sea Containers, a highly profitable shipping company. Sherwood, who fancies cuisine and who had written a book on London restaurants, brought in a famed former CIGA manager of the Grand Hotel in Rome, Natale Rusconi. The hotel's swimming pool--which had been added in 1967 and is the only one in Venice proper--was dressed up and a fitness club and tennis court were added.

Sherwood set about finding pieces of old luxury trains, created the Venice-Simplon Orient Express and in 1982 began running it from London to Venice, using some of the staff, and the style, of the Cipriani Hotel.

Without Cipriani's sanction, Harry's Bars have been springing up all over the world, including one in London and another in New York, named for Harry Helmsley, the real estate tycoon and hotel owner. As for the real Harry, he redid CIGA's Excelsior Hotel in Naples and the restaurant in the Palace Hotel in Milan. But he fretted.

Then Sir Charles Forte, the major domo of Trusthouse Forte, a vast hotel chain, came to him and urged him to consider a new project in New York. (A rumor insists several will open around the country.) In a dazzling four months they sent an architect to Venice to look at the original, and just before Christmas they opened in New York. The guiding spirit will be Harry's handsome 20-year-old son, called, inevitably, Giuseppe.

Harry not only had a flourishing restaurant in New York, but he had made a discovery. He loved New York, a city he had only seen once before and then only for three days. Venice and New York are the only two cities in the world for him. "Venice used to be the capital of the world," he says, "but now it is old. New York is the new world capital."

Walked a Different Route

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